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Honoring Old Glory

’Caps try out hopefuls to sing anthem

As she waited for a chance to prove that she has what it takes to sing the national anthem at a TinCaps game, 14-year-old Kelsey Shea talked about what kind of singer she is and what kind she is not.

“I really don’t do the ‘famous singer, echoey’ thing,” she said.

Whenever it comes time for her to sing, Shea said she doesn’t think too much about what she is about to do. She just does it.

“I just let it go,” she said.

Shea was one of 140 soloists and groups who vied in early March for 51 singing slots. If chosen, they would perform Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” before TinCaps games.

The 2012 season opens April 5.

Auditions happened over three days in the Suite Level Lounge of Parkview Field, a 5,000-square-foot banquet and meeting room decorated in shades of green much drabber than the hue that decorates the uniforms of TinCaps players.

The lounge, stuffy the day Shea auditioned, has acoustics that tend to swallow sound rather than amplify it.

Singing in the Suite Level Lounge probably has very little in common with the experience of singing in a stadium for anywhere from 5,000 to 8,500 fans.

But none of that mattered to Shea who stepped before the seated panel of three judges and “let it go” as promised, in an authoritative manner that cut through the stale air and seemed resistant to quibbling.

Like other applicants, Shea would not learn if she’d been selected until three days after the conclusion of the last audition, but she had every reason to feel confident.

The people who were lured to Parkview Field by whatever promise the prospect of performing this song held for them were not easily categorizable.

There were mid-lifers and moppets, glee clubbers and sportscasters.

Some were aspiring singers with self-produced CDs under their belts and some were people who feel a lot more strongly about the national anthem than they do about the art of singing.

Shea was somewhere in the talented middle.

She said she has previously sung the national anthem for attendees at a Professional Golf Association meeting and for soldiers in the National Guard.

According to Shea, the organizer of the former said, “I have never seen so many grown men cry,” and an activated member of latter gave her a lapel pin.

“He was serving on flag guard that day,” Shea said. “I was really happy.”

An audition to sing the national anthem at a TinCaps game is unlike any singing audition that does not involve that particular song.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is a somewhat tricky tune in intrinsic and extrinsic ways.

“It’s kind of hard to sing,” said aspirant Avery Heatwole, 13. “It starts low and then goes high.”

“It has a big range,” said Jessica Murphy, 17.

Plus there’s the whole matter of those oft-forgotten and also misremembered lyrics.

Before she and her mother looked up the words online, Murphy said she thought “broad” was “brought,” as in “brought stripes.”

It’s an honest mistake.

Perhaps it was common in Key’s day for a person charged with bringing an American flag to forget to bring one with stripes.

On the particular day that Shea, Murphy, Heatwole and 33 others auditioned, there weren’t many discernible lyrical flubs.

If it’s flubs you want, you have to go to the pros.

Vocalists and musical acts as illustrious as Macy Gray, Robert Goulet, Christina Aguilera, Steven Tyler and the Zac Brown Band have all famously forgotten the words.

In 2003, Michael Bolton drew a blank on the words and then looked down at his hand where he’d apparently written them.

And a few other renowned vocalists like Anita Baker and Patti LaBelle, who are not generally known for going off-key, were sonically derailed by the song.

The musical heavyweights who tend to stir the most national ire, however, are the ones who use the national anthem to flaunt vocal gymnastics, trickery and bombast.

When a pop star sings the national anthem the way a contestant on “American Idol” might sing Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” he or she rarely gets invited back to another ballpark.

“The key is to stay true to the song while adding your own flair,” said Maude-Jo Baczynski, 27. “What you don’t want to do is take away the roots of the song.

“It is traditional and it is a classic and no one wants to see it botched,” she said.

Longtime local radio man Rod Tanner, whose performance of the song was forceful while being entirely devoid of flash, said the national anthem is not meant to be sung “like an aria.”

“It is meant to be performed one way,” he said. “You don’t hear the Canadian national anthem performed any other way, do you? It’s not the singer, it’s the song.”

Emily Sedestrom, 16, said the national anthem is not a song that bears well under the usual barrage of vocal “runs” – those near-yodeling improvisations on the medley that one hears in songs by Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey and many others.

“I mean, every song has a purpose,” she said. “Somebody wrote it so other people could experience a feeling they had.”

Sedestrom said the message of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” one that should be swamped by vocal flourishes, is “Whatever happens to America, we will stand.”

“At a certain level, all Americans stand for one thing and that is unity,” she said.

Allie Hager, marketing and promotions intern for the Fort Wayne TinCaps and one of the three judges at this year’s auditions, said that one of the main things they look for is vocalists that the crowd can easily sing along with.

“We want good singing talent but we also want the song to be sung the way it’s supposed to be sung,” she said.

Hager said sometimes a vocalist’s talents can work against the song.

“It’s the first thing that the crowd takes part in together,” she said. “It can impact the entire game.”

No pressure there.

In one sense, perhaps, the most appropriate singers in public forums of “The Star-Spangled Banner” might be the youngest ones.

They’re the ones who don’t get too kowtowed by the patriotic and professional implications involved.

Eight-year-old Amelia Story had already sung the song at two past TinCaps games when she was preparing to audition for a third.

“It is just really fun for me,” she said. “And I like this song.”

Malayleigh McClure, also 8 and also hoping to sing the national anthem for a third time, said she once sang the song in July while fireworks were going off over her head.

“It didn’t scare me at all,” she said. “I just went right on singing.”

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